There is no doubt that the path to the White House next year will run through Midwestern states, and that Democrats need to perform better here if they are going to have any chance of winning back the presidency.
But the political culture in the Midwest is also unique, so I wanted to share three key strategies I have learned from living and running for office in Wisconsin that can help Democratic presidential candidates to compete and win in the region next year.
1. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats — it’s about taking on special interests
When I ask Midwestern voters about party affiliation, they tell me they don’t care about the “D” or “R” next to anyone’s name. They want to know if you’re going to stand up for them against Wall Street, large multinational corporations and drug companies whose numerous lobbyists roam the halls of the Capitol.
With those drug companies continuing to jack up the prices of prescription drugs on struggling families, voters especially want leaders who are unafraid to stand up to Big Pharma and willing to work with anyone, regardless of their political party, in order to lower prescription drug costs.
And just like other parts of the country, you can bet that health care will be a top priority for Midwestern voters when they go to the polls next year. I’ve spoken to countless families who tell me how guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, included in the Affordable Care Act, helped save their child’s life or avoid medical bankruptcy.
And yet we still see cynical efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act and gut these important protections.
The bottom line here is that voters in the Midwest are looking for gutsy leaders who are in their corner, not beholden to the special interests.
2. Respect and promote Midwestern values
One thing to know about the Midwest is that we are very proud of our tradition of making things. In Wisconsin, we make everything from paper, engines, tools, manhole covers and ships to beer, brats and cheese.
There is no question that farmers and workers need allies in Washington like never before, and the Democratic presidential candidates must show that they respect hard work and American workers by stepping up for the Midwest.
3. Don’t leave any part of the Midwest behind
In my race last year, we worked hard to do both by focusing our efforts in urban, suburban and rural areas. My campaign opened an office in Milwaukee earlier than ever before to engage and turn out voters there who often feel like politicians don’t care about them until the last few days of the campaign when they need their vote. But I also spent a considerable amount of time on the campaign trail holding rallies and tours in rural western Wisconsin and suburban Green Bay. The strategy worked, and it’s one of the reasons why voters re-elected me by an historic 11-point margin on election night.
There is no question that the Midwest will be in play next year and that Democrats need to recapture this region. But by sticking to the strategies outlined above, I’m confident that the Democratic presidential nominee will win back these states — and perhaps flip a few more in the process.